Politics

Harris County commissioners court passes measures supporting abortion, contraception access

All three measures were approved in contentious 3-2 party-line votes just days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Harris County Commissioners Court on March 22, 2022.

Harris County leaders on Tuesday passed a trio of items in support of women's access to abortion and contraception in the wake of the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The most significant of the three measures directs county departments to find ways to protect and expand access to affordable and no-cost contraception, sexual education, family planning, and other programs including "access to safe abortions where possible under the law."

A second measure provided for the county to lobby the state Legislature to mitigate the effects of a near-total abortion ban in Texas, while a third item was a symbolic resolution to condemn the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe.

All three measures passed 3-2 on party-line votes.

Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat, cast the deciding vote in favor of all three items, “in recognition of the fact that we've had a right curtailed, and what that might mean for future rights that might be curtailed. I'm very, very concerned about that.”

The vote proved contentious, even by the usual standards of the sharply divided court. Dozens of individuals offered public testimony, with slightly more than half the comments in favor of the three measures.

Skye Fredericks, a Rice University student and activist with the feminist advocacy organization Deeds Not Words, was one of several speakers who identified as a survivor of sexual assault. She said legal abortion had been a life-or-death matter for her after she was attacked as a teenager.

"Access to reproductive health care is the reason I am standing before you today," Fredericks said. "As a result of the Supreme Court's blatant hypocrisy and lack of compassion, people will die. I'm going to repeat that. People are going to die."

Ashley Cruz, government relations coordinator at Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, made a similar argument.

"Because of anti-abortion extremism, thousands of Texans will go without access to fundamental health care," Cruz said. "Friday's (Supreme Court) ruling is devastating. All people should be trusted to know what's best for themselves and have access to the health care they need when they need it."

Opponents of the measures argued that the county had no place spending local dollars on what was a state and federal matter.

Tara Beulah cited the Texas state penal code, calling the measure to support lobbying an abuse of official capacity.

“Before you order entire agencies for what seems like campaign lobbying work on county dollars,” Beulah said, “I would like to know: is this legal?”

Other anti-abortion speakers objected to the measures on moral grounds, including Republican members of commissioners court who voted no on all three items.

"I've had 50 years of thought and prayer about this issue, almost every day," said Commissioner Tom Ramsey.

"Where I think that we have our issue is that what is inside the uterus is not just property but is a life, and if it is a life, then that innocent life deserves protection," said Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle.

"We are a county commissioners court,” Cagle added. “It is our job to fix the potholes. It is our job to make sure that the bathrooms in our parks are clean. It is our job to make sure that we have adequate public safety. We should not be getting out of our lane telling the United States Supreme Court what to be doing."

In a scathing response, Democratic Commissioner Adrian Garcia called the Republican commissioners' stance hypocritical, given their refusal to support a measure condemning gun violence in the wake of the Uvalde mass shooting.

He also criticized what he said was their lack of support for early childhood education and health care.

"If you're going to be for life, be for life from womb to tomb,” Garcia said.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media's business reporter, covering the oil...

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